March 7, 2008
Hard at work in the career/life balancing act
Special to The Seattle Times
When Dena Fantle needs to help in her son's classroom, she doesn't have to worry about checking in with her boss or fighting traffic to get to the school.
Fantle just leaves. Six years ago, she left the corporate world and started a business as a corporate-project manager and space planner so that she could work around her son's and daughter's class schedules and after-school activities.
"When my son was born, the balance of work and family was off," the Bellevue woman said. "There was stress with the family, having to get dinner on the table at 6. I started to consider how I could balance my time better."
Fantle is among the growing number of people who have left the corporate world to start home-based businesses. The Center for Women's Business Research in Washington, D.C., estimates that as of December 2000, 28 percent of businesses owned by women were home-based. The number does not include people who sell products such as cosmetics or kitchenware for a corporation.
The latest U.S. census estimated that 50 percent of all businesses were home-based.
About 51 percent of women who own businesses left their corporate position for more flexibility, a 1998 study by the business-research center. Of those surveyed, 58 percent said nothing would draw them back to the corporate world.
Technology enables them to stay away, said Julie Weeks, research director for the center. Computers, the Internet and wireless telephones connect independent contractors to their clients and partners who work in other locations.
The Family Medical Leave Act also may contribute to the number of home-based businesses, said Lea Vaughn, a University of Washington law professor who specializes in labor and employment. The act requires employers to offer employees flexible hours and telecommuting options.
"In some cases, people enjoy that lifestyle so much (that) they think of a way to create their own business from home," Vaughn said.
That's what happened with public-relations consultant Melissa Milburn, who works with high-tech companies. The Seattle resident was on maternity leave when the tech bust hit. When she returned to her job and started working to recruit business, she discovered clients were looking for smaller consulting firms that could offer expertise without the high overhead costs.
"I decided I could do that on my own," said Milburn, who was looking for a way to spend more time with her now-14-month-old son.
In August, she quit her job with a public-relations firm and started M3 Communications.
"My clients know my situation, and I'm not trying to be something that I'm not," Milburn said. "These companies understand balancing work and family life."
For more information on home-based businesses:
While some people know right away that they want to start their own business, others determine that's what they want after considering it for months or years. Some are forced to start their own businesses after they are laid off. Others start gradually while at a corporate job and make the move when they build up their client base.
Melinda Lilley had been a trade-show manager for Weyerhaeuser for five years when she learned in November 1990 that she would be laid off. Three months later, shortly after her daughter was born, she started consulting and training for other trade shows in addition to working as a consultant for her former employer.
"I was scared of going cold turkey and being at home full time," Lilley said.
Mike Knowles started Camelot Catering in his Newport Hills home in 1992, after he left his job as a regional sales director and couldn't find another position locally. As his children have grown into teenagers, his part-time catering business has grown, too.
"When we started out, it was more of a part-time business because I was just getting the business started and my children were smaller," he said. "The thing that was important to my wife and I was that we have one of us here with our children when they are growing up."
Knowles converted one bay of his garage and a back bedroom of his home into a restaurant-quality kitchen. Working from home allows him to reduce his overhead, and he can pass those savings to his customers. He also doesn't have to commute and said he likes being the "dictator of his own destiny."
But there are drawbacks to working at home. Some people complain they miss the camaraderie of co-workers. They don't like all the peripheral tasks of running a business, from sending out bills and collecting payments to fixing their own computer problems. There's also the uncertainty of where that next paycheck will come from and the difficulty of separating work from home.
"Being a single person, I'm always at work and yet I'm always at home," said Shandel Slaten, a personal coach who consults by telephone and e-mail with her clients during the day and evening. "I have to work hard to keep those distinctions."
Slaten, who coaches corporate professionals from her Issaquah condominium, said she closes the door to her office and sets a schedule to keep her home and work life separate.
How do people know whether they are cut out to start a business? How do they guarantee success?
They must be independent and efficient workers. They must have drive and ambition and the willingness to work by themselves. It also helps if they have a spouse to count on for medical benefits and additional income if times get tough.
Most importantly, Weeks said, they need to love what they're doing.
"You need to have passion about what you're doing and a good knowledge of what differentiates your business from someone else who does the same thing," she said.
After about a year of trying to figure out what to do after she left a marketing job at Taco Time, Nancy Juetten found a solution that gives her happiness in both her professional and family life. Now she works about 30 hours a week promoting clients.
"Today I earn more money, have more fun and have more control over my time and my life," Juetten said. "It's a recipe for a happy life for me and my family."
Free-lance writer Cynthia Flash covers business and technology from Bellevue. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company
- career profile (164)
- cool jobs (67)
- education and training (61)
- entry level (70)
- etiquette (107)
- events (71)
- featured (412)
- finding your passion (95)
- health care (73)
- interviewing (88)
- job fairs (60)
- management (88)
- market trends (91)
- networking (273)
- resumes (102)
- salary (85)
- social media (91)
- technology (113)
- unemployment (55)
- work/life balance (90)